Archive for December, 2014

The Hard Truth

Posted: December 23, 2014 in Holidays, Philosophy
Tags: , , ,

I have, on countless occasions, told this story, and today it only seems appropriate to tell it again.


It snowed overnight the previous night, which made getting to work a bit more challenging that day.  It was December 23, 2004, and a day that I was pretty darn excited about.  OK, well maybe not that day, but Christmas was around the corner, and I was an unknown number of days away from finding out if I’d be getting my first car.

You see, one of my dad’s employees was looking to sell his 1994 Ford Explorer.  It was purple…but that was OK, because as an 18-year-old, any wheels were better than no wheels.  It also had 185,000 miles on it, which again, would seem like a turnoff to most.  But it would be mine, and I wouldn’t have to share it.  And for the low, low price of $200, it seemed like a no brainer.

So I rode the bus that morning to work, during my brief stint as a loss prevention associate at JCPenney.  I had been doing the job for at least couple months at that point, long enough to “man the store” on my own.  Our department had a cozy, two-room office in the corner of the store with a desk in one, and a table and a phone in the other (no computers–which, looking back on it, seems strange).  Once I arrived and clocked in, I started my usual first lap around the store, doing all the normal things I always did; greeting the various department heads, checking fire escapes, talking to the jewelry ladies for longer than I probably should have and walking awkwardly through the juniors section.  Eventually, I made my way back to the office for my first round of phone calls.

Typically, I’d call my girlfriend or sometimes my mom to chat…but that day was a potentially very exciting day, so the more urgent call was to my dad who might have good news for me.  Lo and behold, his employee agreed to the $200 deal to offload his gas guzzling beast of a truck, and in one phone call my life changed–no more riding the bus, no more standing in the cold.  I would have my first car!  (The ordeal of actually getting the car was a pain in the ass, if for no other reason than I had to dig it out of its snowy grave in the parking lot at my dad’s work, where it had sat for some time up to and including the night before during the snow storm.  Another story for another day, I suppose.)

I needed to share this news with someone.  I honestly don’t remember who I called first, whether it was my mom or my girlfriend.  But the call to my mom was also one that would change my life forever–because it was then that I found out that she had passed away overnight.  I called Bernie (that was the guy who owned the house from which she was renting a room), asked for her, and he responded first with silence…then with, “I don’t know how to tell you this….we found your mom this morning, she had been bleeding from the nose and was face-down.  The police are here now.”


The details around that phone call are fuzzy.  I’m not sure if I said, “OK, um…thanks,” and hung up, or if I just put the phone down.  And I don’t remember if I sat there for a minute and pondered things, or if I got up immediately and walked out of the office.  I do remember being confused, and not knowing exactly what to do.  Should I work the rest of the day?  Should I tell someone?  Maybe I should call my brother, or my dad.  Maybe I should go tell the office folks upstairs.  I remember being concerned about the amount of time it would take me to get home, because I didn’t have the bus schedule memorized for that time of the day.

So, I ended up doing another lap in the store, not talking to anyone on the way and just trying to figure things out.  Eventually I made my way up to the second floor, hesitatingly walked into the main office, and told the receptionist what had happened.  The store manager was out that day, but she told me she’d let the assistant manager know what was going on, and I dazedly walked out of the main office and headed back to the first floor to make a few phone calls.  When I got there, I called Janine, my brother maybe, and possibly my dad…I honestly don’t remember.  But I was on the phone for quite a few minutes, and was eventually interrupted by knocking, and then pounding, on the loss prevention office door.

One quick aside here is that only loss prevention personnel had keys to that particular door…not even the store manager had access to our office, for the sake of objectivity and checks and balances.  But from everyone else’s perspective, I went into hiding, and who knows how I’d react when I was alone??  When I opened the door, I was briefly reprimanded for not staying with someone, then the assistant manager asked if I was going home.  I remember telling her that I didn’t really know what I was doing at that moment, but that I would have to walk to the bus stop to get back home.  She kindly offered me a ride, and I took it…the snow was really deep from the storm the day before, and it made walking quite a chore.

The next thing I remember is being in her car (a gold Honda CR-V) on the way to my dad’s house…but the rest of that day, and the next couple, are a bit of a blur.

One thing I certainly do remember is the birth of the “dead mom” joke…my brother and I, still in a bit of a haze about the whole thing, were at my dad’s for Christmas that year and saw a bunch of extended family on his side.  My parents had divorced many years prior, but they all remember my mom for obvious reasons.  When we would see them at holiday gatherings, they had a habit of asking how she had been doing…the problem being, of course, that most of them hadn’t heard about her death only a couple of days before.  So, it made for some awkward conversation, and to be honest, some serious buzz-killing.

So that’s the story.  The title of this entry is called “The Hard Truth,” because that is what my mom always delivered to my brother and I.  I’ve said a lot of things about her over the last couple of years via this blog, but I don’t think I’ve covered her total lack of sugar-coating when it came to delivering news–whether it be financial, social, or otherwise.  It is one of the very awesome qualities that, looking back, I have always admired, and something that I try to hold true to in my personal and professional life.  Honesty to a fault is not necessarily a bad thing to shoot for.

And, among other things, it suited my mom well.  I miss her for it, and for so many other reasons.


I love you, Mom.